SELF PORTRAIT: AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST

Vicki Boatright, AKA BZTAT

How did you first become interested in the arts?

I have been an artist since I could first pick up a pencil and paintbrush. My family encouraged my creativity from a young age, and they encouraged me to explore all the arts. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Arts in visual arts from Marshall University in the 1980’s, leading me onto a path of professional arts pursuits.

How are you involved in the Stark County arts community?

I first became involved in the Stark County arts community in the early 2000’s when the Canton Arts District first started to develop in the downtown area. I started out showing my artwork at Second April Galerie, then began operating my own gallery/studio in 2008. I have maintained a gallery/studio in various locations in the downtown area for many years, and I have been involved in First Fridays since they first began as art walks. Currently I operate a studio/gallery in Canton Creator Space, a coworking space for artists and other creative entrepreneurs. In this location I curate group art exhibits, mentor a group of artists with mental health and developmental disabilities, create my own artwork, and manage operations the space such as community events and workshops.

What inspires your creative process?

I am inspired by many things but much of my artwork involves animal themes because of my deep love of animals. Some of my art explores wonderment, using bright colors to create images that are fun and enjoyable. Other works explore more serious themes facing our culture and society. My “Dialogues” murals are collaborative works that bring people together to create statements or “dialogs” about issues and community concerns.

Can you share a memorable experience related to your artwork?

For the past year, I have worked with a group of high school students in a teaching artist residency from Art Possible called Adaptation, Integration, and the Arts. These students have all experienced exclusion by their peers because of disabilities and other differences. As a collaborative project, we created a mural that creatively captured their collective experiences with bullying/exclusion, seeking acceptance, and finding ways to cope. Working with these students and watching them grow as they candidly expressed themselves was very moving for me. The mural entitled “Making a World of Difference,” was unveiled recently in the lobby at the Department of Education and Workforce in Columbus, OH, where it will be on display for the rest of the summer. Each student had an opportunity to meet the OH Director of Education and his staff. These students clearly impacted policymakers who make decisions affecting their education.

How has living in Stark County influenced your artistic style?

Stark County is a working-class community free of the pretentiousness that you see in the so-called “art world” of larger cities. The artists are more about creating with authentic passion than they are about being part of a scene or the latest hot trend. Collectors are looking for art that resonates with their personal tastes and preferences, prioritizing enjoyment over prestige and status. This community fosters an authentic and sincere approach to art that, I think, encourages me to be a more grounded artist and helps me cultivate a lasting impact through my art.

Tell us about any upcoming exhibitions or events you’re involved in.

“Midsummer Monster Mayhem” is a fun group exhibit of artwork about monsters that I am hosting at BZTAT Studios from June 22 – August 23, 2024. Although not my usual forte (I have never painted monsters before!), several of my artist friends have inspired me to stretch into new realms, and I will have at least three monstrous artworks to accompany the works of other Stark County artists.

I will also host a retrospective exhibit of artwork by my friend and fellow artist, Scott Simler at BZTAT Studios from July 13 – August 3. Scott, a prolific artist who created numerous imaginative artworks that have been widely collected for years, passed away recently from a rare form of cancer. Scott was an icon in both the arts community and the disability community. The exhibit will celebrate his artistic legacy by displaying pieces shared by various collectors on loan for this special showing.

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